Acton Institute Powerblog

Living The Hamster Or The Hobbit Life

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When it comes to urban planning, nobody beats the Soviets. First, they wanted to plan: no mish-mosh, haphazard cities, towns and burgs sprouting up like in the decadent West. Of course, structures had to address equality. No fancy neighborhoods in one area, and low-rent housing in another. And then there was functionality. Workers needed to be close to work. This eliminated the need for unnecessary and costly transportation. Soviet academic Alexei Gutnov described the planning this way:

Ideal conditions for rest and privacy are offered by the individual house situated in the midst of nature. But this is an expensive kind of well-being. . . . The villa
is the traditional retreat of the leisured minority at the top of the bourgeois society. The attempt to make the villa available to the average consumer means
building a mass of little houses, each on a tiny piece of land …’

In their rejection of the American model of suburban sprawl, Gutnov’s team specifically notes its unfeasibility in a society premised on equality.

What people ended up with was ugly buildings that all looked the same, little green space and the destruction of character.

Who would want this? Apparently, folks in Seattle are considering something very similar. Known as “Agenda 21” (which already makes it sound creepy), this style of urban planning (which goes back decades) plans to:

eliminate single-family zoning, which will move families out of houses and into dense housing units instead. This comes a year after micro-housing began replacing regular housing in Seattle with tiny apartments averaging only 145 square feet, known as aPodments, sometimes with shared kitchens.

Why? Well, climate change for one. Let’s eliminate, as much as possible, the need for unnecessary, costly and pollution-spewing transportation. Then there’s the whole 1% thing; we can’t have some people living in grand style while others suffer in studio apartments. If this sounds familiar, it should. Rachel Alexander calls Agenda 21:

creeping, out-in-the-open socialism. And somehow, they’ve fooled people into thinking that living in a closet and sharing a kitchen with strangers is ‘healthy living.’

It’s no wonder there are some people trying to live way, way, way off the grid. In Wales, a  community of folks have been living Hobbit-like lives, unbeknownst for years to government authority and darn-near everyone else.

Back in 1993, Julian and Emma Orbach purchased a large piece of land in west Wales’ Preseli Mountains. Ultimately, the then-soon-to-be camouflaged area became home to more than twenty like-minded people, all of who wished to live outside of the confines of what passes for society. They constructed grass-covered, wooden buildings, and became very much self-sufficient. In some respects, their story is not unlike that presented in M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 movie, The Village.

For all intents and purposes, they created a self-enclosed community, the existence of which very few, if indeed hardly any, had any inkling. That the secret village resembled something straight out of the Middle Ages or – as the media noted, when the story broke – Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, only added to the engaging and near-magical nature of the area.

Astonishingly, the Orbachs, and the rest of their number, lived in blissful peace and stealth for no less than five years before anyone in authority even realized what was going on. In fact, the only reason why the story, and the facts behind it, ever surfaced was because, in 1998, a survey aircraft in the area happened to take aerial photographs of the village.

As Nick Redfern points out, “it wasn’t long at all before tedious, humorless automatons of government descended on the colony, all determined to stick their meddling noses into the situation.”

At first, the government told the folks living in this community that since they’d never had building permits, all the structures needed to be destroyed. There were 8 buildings. 8. A battle royal ensued, and after 5 years, the government caved. The handful of folks living in tiny, hand-hewn cottages, wearing draped homespun were left to tend a few sheep and stoke the fires.

Jane Jacobs, the 20th century urban planner, wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, “The trouble with paternalists is that they want to make impossibly profound changes, and they choose impossibly superficial means for doing so.” The Soviets, the folks who are pushing Agenda 21 and the Orbachs all understand this, but in markedly different ways.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

Comments

  • I have read Jane Jacobs and she is great!

    It will be interesting to see how people in Seattle like living in the old Soviet Union. The Soviets didn’t like it. Maybe Seattle residents are from hardier stock.

    Helmut Schoeck wrote about life in the kibbutzim in Israel in his “Envy: A Theory of Social Organization.” They were better at implementing the Soviet model than the Soviets. But the closer they got to equality the greater it inflamed their envy.